What Would the Framers Say?

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

This is our 10th annual American history issue, and for the first time we don't have a historic American on the cover. Instead, we have America's most historic and important document, the Constitution. But the story, which I wrote, is not about the Constitution in history; it's about how the Constitution is used--and sometimes misused--in our politics. Politicians ask all the time, What would the Framers say? The truth is, we don't know, and they're not around to prove anyone wrong.

Before I became editor of TIME, I ran the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and while there, I came to believe that the Constitution can't become the exclusive province of judges and lawyers. The views of everyday Americans--We the People--are far more important. As the poll accompanying our story shows, most Americans don't feel very familiar with the document, but there's no reason not to be. At some 8,000 words, it's not that long, and while it's not as lyrical as the Declaration, it enunciates broad principles and guidelines and leaves a lot of room for debate. For those who talk about the plain and clear meaning of the Constitution, have a look: there's an awful lot left to interpretation.

An eBook edition of our cover package, titled The Constitution: Does It Still Matter?, will be available in the Kindle Store on Amazon.com It has an unabridged version of the cover story, plus exclusive interviews with Constitution experts conducted by TIME reporter Andréa Ford, who was vital to the production of the whole package.

And for help navigating the 2012 election, look for political analysis from editor-at-large Mark Halperin on our just-launched free iPad app, the Page.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR